Guitar Hero – it’s a good thing, right?

Ever on the cutting edge of truly monumental topics of debate, I’ve decided to weigh in on the Guitar Hero craze that has captured the minds and benumbed fingers of our youth.  Including my household.

I’m not gonna describe the game, if you don’t already know about it then you’re clearly here by mispelling something in a Google search.   This unexpected mega-hit from Harmonix systems, now on it’s third sequel if you count the 80’s music edition, has become THE game to buy for Christmas and spawned a cottage industry for customized gear (including refurbished REAL guitars with buttons replacing the frets) and it’s own social microcosm.

That’s all well and good.  I owe it to these games for teaching my kids that Greenday is NOT punk, but the Ramones are (not to mention who the HELL the Ramones were).  Just the other day my heart leapt as I overheard a back seat discussion over who my daughter’s favorite ‘new’ bands were; Pantera, Boston or Queen.  Ah, has it been so long ago that they were jamming to Barney or Hanson?  Shudder.

And I know, all over America impressionable youth are being saved from the ravages of Rap and Hip-hop, becoming edu-macated that their parent’s music doesn’t necessarily suck.  Depending on the parents, of course – MY parents music sucked.   Ferrante & Teicher! And people wonder why I turned out the way I did (Sorry Mom & Dad – Love ya’!).  

Anyhow, by making some older acts now ‘cool’, this younger generation has begun exploring even other classic bands, having realized that they might in fact be missing something.  It blows me away to see a kid at the mall wearing a Pink Floyd shirt, knowing damn well he might’ve been conceived to ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, but has definitely not seen it performed live.

But I’ve been reluctant to jump too deeply into the game’s culture myself.  Yes, I’ve dabbled (I mean, I AM human) but every time I spend more than 20 minutes on the controller, a little voice creeps into my head saying “you know, if you were practicing one of your REAL guitars upstairs, you’d actually be accomplishing something with your life”.  That little voice is mean sometimes.

That’s just it.  Is Guitar Hero just another example of us ‘dumbing down’ a more intricate art and skill set, so that one doesn’t actually have to apply himself to sound halfway decent?  I mean, sure getting 5 stars on ‘Iron Man’ is fun – so is mastering it yourself after sounding it out by ear on a secondhand Stratocaster.   And the later way is not only more fulfilling, it teachs abilities that can be honed and perfected over a lifetime.  Every time I see a group of Skater thugs crowded into a circle, discussing their Guitar Hero ‘gear’ – or God forbid I see someone with a multi-stickered CASE for their controller - I wanna smack them all collectively on the backs of their oily heads and lead them like the Pied Piper to Sam Ash.

And are the same bands who now benefit from greater name recognition due to having a song included in the game, at the same time short changing the very nature of what they did to write, re-write and record said hit tune?  Is it oversimplifying a very difficult and time consuming process ?

My daughters tell me I’m wrong, that by having to fight & practice to master ‘Bark at the Moon’ on Expert level, they have been given a feel for just how difficult the guitar really is, and how gifted a musician Jake E. Lee must be to have written that legendary rocker.  Touche’.

So maybe it really is a good thing.  Or at least the good outweighs the negatives.  I guess time will tell. 

In the meantime, back to 3 starring Medium level ‘Slow Ride’ for me.  As my Charvel model 3b gathers dust upstairs, and gently weeps.

Top 25 Great Drinking Quotes

Found this article from Onmylist.com mentioned on Fark, and thought it worth passing along.  The first few are very common from emails we’ve all gotten etc.  It’s the later ones that I found the most amusing.

 My Favorite: “The hard part about being a bartender is figuring out who is drunk and who is just stupid – Richard Braunstein”.  I’m happy to have been a bartender’s worst nightmare for over twenty years now.

You can check out the list HERE

Cleaning Out Ozzy’s Attic

If you’ve been on Ebay recently, you may have noticed the Osbournes are having a bit of a garage sale.  Yep, hosted by Julien’s Auctions, Sharon and the Prince of Darkness are unloading 508 (!!!) items of interest (and I think they’re still adding), partial proceeds to go to the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (say THAT three times real fast). 

According to the listings, these are items from the families’ homes in Beverly Hills, Malibu & their Buckinghamshire mansion in England.  You can actually only bid in absentee at this point as the items will be auctioned off live on Nov. 30 in Hollywood.

If there was ever any doubt, it’s been good to be the Ozz.  I counted 7 quad bike/quad runners for sale (probably just as well – with his track record), 2 mini bikes, Ozzy’s Bat Coat (would that I had a grand to try for that one!), tons of ritzy furniture, jewelry, dresses from Sharon & Kelly, a metal bat tiera (I’m not making this up), lamps, tables, paintings, awards, a Zakk Wylde signed guitar, Ozzy’s Black Sabbath converse - just a ton of stuff.

It’s really an amazing assortment, makes me wonder if they’ll have anything left in their houses when it’s done.  And it shines a sinister light on Sharon’s illness, that I hope is not what it may seem. 

Anyhow, If you’re like me, you can’t even afford to look at the listings but go ahead, dream a little.  Check it out HERE.  

R.I.P. – Kevin DuBrow

The website TheVegasEye.com is reporting the death of Quiet Riot vocalist Kevin DuBrow, who was found in his Las Vegas home by friends Sunday.  No cause of death is given.

In their day, Quiet Riot could only be called ‘pioneering’ for helping to create the LA metal sound, opening the door for hundreds of other acts to follow and they were the first metal band to ever achieve number one status on Billboard (for the album ‘Metal Health’).  If you were cognizant back in the 80’s (as I sometimes was), you couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing either ‘Metal Health’ or ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ – both of which I consider the best songs they ever did.

I only had the opportunity to see the guys once, on a reunion tour of their most famous line-up consisting of DuBrow, drummer Frankie Banali, bassist Rudy Sarzo and guitar phenom Carlos Cavazo.   This was only a few years ago, but I was amazed at their collective stage presence and ability to totally mow a crowd over.   On a more touching note, I was impressed to see how they openly payed tribute to the memory of former bandmate (and legendary Ozzy Osbourne guitarist) Randy Rhoads.

Afterwards there was a meet and greet where I talked briefly with all four guys and found them to be personable and genuine.   In fact, my brush with Kevin is the most memorable.

I was chatting with my buddies and I saw Kevin approaching as he made his way to go sit at the autograph table.  Trying to be overheard, I looked at my buddies and said “How often is that, when you can look around a bar and see Kevin Dubrow walking around?”

Kevin stopped with a grin, looking at me and replied “About once a year.  Yeah, once a year.”  And with a wink, he went on his way.

Probably silly, but I thought that was a cool gesture on his part, and I never forgot it.  Unfortunately, I DID forget my autographed 8×10 of the band, left it on a table at the end of the night.  I still kick myself for that one.

Selfishly, I’m saddened to think I’ll never have another chance to finally get that autographed picture or to again see that awesome live performance.  But mostly, I grieve for the loss we all share in the passing of this great frontman and performer.

My sincere condolences to his family and friends.  Kevin, thanks for rocking us, man! 

Music Review: Rob Zombie – Zombie Live [Geffen]

At long last we FINALLY have a live CD from Rob Zombie – after all, he’s only been at this band stuff for 20 years or so.  No rush there, Rob.

Originally this was announced as being a CD/DVD combo – which made sense because there’s nothing like seeing a Zombie concert.  The live shows are pure legend with high energy, heavy theatrics and explosions galore but sadly, it seems there was a last minute change of plans.  Within only a couple weeks of release on Amazon.com, the price suddenly dropped to under ten bucks BUT the DVD part of the combo was removed.  Not sure exactly of the reasons but now it appears there may be a DVD in the spring of 2008.

This is a fatal flaw, in my opinion as the CD sounds awesome, and the adrenaline of the band in performance is still captured – but without being able to see it something is definitely missed.  It’s like listening to a movie from the other room – you can just sense you’re not getting all that you should out of it.  There ARE 2 bonus videos and some links to Youtube available if you put the disc into your PC and access ‘bonus.robzombie.com’ however the sound is horrible and they look like what you would expect from streaming video.

Aside from that, the CD is slickly produced and chock full of songs (18 of ’em) as recorded during Zombie’s Educated Horses tour.  The set list is a good mix of White Zombie material, solo hits and a few tracks off the Horses CD.  The crowd is clearly full of fire but there’s not much ‘between song’ dialogue represented or extended ‘live’ variations of most songs.  I counted 1 drum solo (after ‘House of 1000 Corpses’) and 2 guitar solos (following ‘SuperBeast’ & ‘Thunderkiss ’65’).   What also improves the listening experience is that most songs are considerably heavier live versus their studio versions.  ‘Never Gonna Stop’ for example, which I’ve always considered one of his weaker hits, gains some much needed ‘umph’ from the live sound mix.

The included booklet is also a real plus, as it focuses on the band as whole rather than just Zombie, the man.  This is a generous move, when you think of it – how many egomaniacal singers would share the spotlight so readily with their musicians?  But considering the band, most notably the severely under-rated John 5 on guitar plus Piggy D. on bass and Tommy Clufetos on drums, this is a wise choice making sure each of them is recognized.

I was disappointed that we weren’t treated to any of Zombie’s original artwork but the band photos and stage shots were still cool to look over.

And that sums up my thoughts on this release.  It’s good, but not great – and at the end of the disc I found myself wishing to have had a more complete sampling of the Rob Zombie experience.   It is rumored that Zombie is working on a definitive White Zombie box set, to include basically all of the output of the band during it’s brief career plus bonus and/or unreleased material. 

Let’s hope that that set gets a more thorough treatment.

Mr. Diamond meet Mr. Hansen, Mr Hansen – I believe you already know Mr. Diamond

Since it’s been a slow news day, EVERY news organization on God’s green earth are reporting about how Neil Diamond revealed to the AP wire on Monday the true inspiration for his mega-hit “Sweet Caroline” was none other than Caroline Kennedy.  He went on to tell a heart wrenching tale of how it was written, in an hour, in some hotel in Memphis while he was a “young, broke songwriter” after recalling her picture in a news magazine.  She was “dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony” and “it was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there”.

Mmmmmk.  Now Mr. Diamond finally had the opportunity to tell Ms. Caroline (now Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg because one never loses their maiden name when they’re famous) via satellite for her 50th birthday party.  I’m sure she was flattered, y’know – to be his muse.  Like Alice to Lewis Carroll.

Except if Caroline Kennedy was, by Diamond’s own admission, the inspiration she was only 12 when the song was released. . . probably younger when it was written.

Ever read the lyrics.  “Hand’s touchin’ hands.  Reachin’ Out.  Touchin’ me.  Touchin’ you.”

Now, I’m not trying to accuse anyone of anything here, but isn’t this about the part where Chris Hansen jumps up from behind the couch with a camera crew?

I’m sure this is all miscontrued and I’m reading way too much into things.  It’s a harmless, lovely song right?

All the same. . . someone might mention to Mr. Diamond that Neverland ranch is rumored to be coming onto the market.

Playing with more Widgets

Ok, short post tonight ’cause I’ve been up since 4am – and I ain’t used to it.  Not whining, I’m just stating a fact. 

In the meantime, I’m playing around with a Digg Widget (off to the right) instead of the Del.Icio.Us listings that I never seem to get around to updating.  Digg is set up to update itself with the most popular blogs in the Entertainment category.  At least, for now.

I’m not sure if I like it or not.  The border pretty much sucks but it’s in the javascript so ‘tweaking’ it will take me a bit to figure out.   Feel free to offer advice or commentary.  Ok, strike that.  HELPFUL commentary.

In other news, ‘Zombie Live’ arrived from Amazon today.  It’s Rob Zombie’s first, and to date only, official live CD.  I plan on reviewing in the next day or so – because nothing says Thanksgiving like ZOMBIES!

Anyhow, peace.

Finding the Proper Ringtone

This week, I finally ended a love/hate relationship that had been the bane of my existence for far too long.  Reluctantly, and against my better judgement, I re-signed my life away to Verizon for another year of cellular phone service – all so I could get a decent deal on a new phone.  My old one, although fairly dependable considering the abuse it’d seen, had gotten drenched in a downpour about a year ago.  It never worked quite right ever since, especially the speaker.  I frequently found myself unable to hear the person on the other end, which had the potential of getting me into serious trouble.  Like the time I agreed to a garbled request to have brussel sprouts for dinner.  Egads!

So, thanks to my lovely bride, I’ve been setup with a nice LG enV – the one that opens up to a full keyboard and screen, kinda like a mini-laptop.  You can see one like it HERE.  It’s probably more than I needed (ain’t that ALWAYS the way) but I am a texting fiend sometimes, so this will facilitate that bad habit.

And of course, when you get a new toy such as this, in addition to calling everyone you know – because typing their number into your new phone reminded you that you haven’t talked to them in like 18 years – one also immediately sets about individualizing the hardware to make it more your very own.  The background was easy enough, went with a standard beach scene that came with the phone.

 But the ringtone. . .aaah, that’s gonna be harder.  I’ve spent about 2 hours so far on this quest, and cannot seem to narrow down my choices.  I mean, I like a ton of different bands and a lot of different types of music.  Picking just ONE song to represent my tastes is like choosing your favorite centerfold playmate.  They’re all so inviting.

Plus, who knew that you could get the likes of Deicide or Cradle of Filth as a ringtone?  Imagine the looks as ‘Homage for Satan’ blasts out at the dentist office waiting room.  The untapped potential to cause mayhem is rivetting.

So you can see, this is an important decision – probably weightier than choosing a car, or even a house.  Ok, maybe not. . . but it’s a biggie.  Your ringtone defines you to complete strangers, and it reaffirms you to your friends.  If you’re at a bar, and ‘Karma Chameleon’ cranks out. . . most likely you’ve got some explaining to do.  In life, your just one bad ringtone choice away from total social collapse.   So this weekend, my goal is to settle on something a tad unusual, but memorable.  Cool, but not too trendy. 

The pressure of this decision has even driven me to drinking.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Movie Review: Beowulf [2007]

Uber-producer/Director Robert Zemeckis (“Monster House”, “Tales From the Crypt” series) brings us this foray into “300” territory, a breathtaking bit of animated 3-D craziness for those of you who like video game style storytelling.  For that’s what this reminds me of, a big movie length Playstation intro out of one of the Lord of the Rings titles.

The story concerns a Danish king in the year 500-ish A.D. (voiced by Anthony Hopkins), who has a rip roaring kegger in his spiffy new party house crashed by the horribly mutated (and hungry) Grendel (Crispin Hellion Glover – yes, Hellion).  Grendel proceeds to tear folks limb from limb and drag a few back to his cave for later dining.  The Danes don’t have anyone man enough to fight the beast (despite John Malkovich’s character Unferth being SUPPOSEDLY the local hero) , so they close said party house and put out a reward to anyone ELSE who can do the job for them.

Along comes Beowulf (Ray Winstone, who is aided the most by the animation of his character) and his merry men from across the sea – full of boasts, wanton sexual frustration and a desire for gold.  They offer to do the deed, and talk the king in to re-opening Party Central in the process.  After a WEIRD bit of nude fighting on the part of Beowulf (don’t ask), Grendel has his arm ripped off and runs back to his mountain abode.  Beowulf and co. follow where the hero finishes off the beast. . . and it’s sexy, gold dripping mother (Angelina Jolie).  Or so he says.  Move ahead a few decades, and a grey haired beowulf finds that sins of his past have created a new problem. . . and once again he must don shield and loincloth to save the kingdom.

The animation is done via motion tracking CGI-type goodness over the actual actors, which was used effectively by Zemeckis for “The Polar Express”.  But unlike that film, here the characters look emotionless and unblinking.  It is the countryside and village which are truly the show stealers, as the camera glides over realistic looking trees, or dips down to scour above the smooth rocks along a river.  And stuff is constantly trying to poke you in the eye, not like the old days of 3-D where 1 or 2 good scenes were all you got in a movie.  In ‘Beowulf’, literally every scene has gorgeous graphics and well designed multi-layers of foliage and natural artifacts.

The story, although written by the very capable duo of Neil Gaiman (“Stardust”) & Roger Avary (“Pulp Fiction”), is simplistic, often violent and chock full of innuendo.  Hey, I liked it but this ain’t ‘Sophie’s Choice’, mmmmk?   And frankly, considering the epic poem on which it’s based, I think the narrative finds a nice compromise of attempted loyalty to the tale, at least it’s backbone, while still managing to pander to it’s adolescent audience.

Definitely go see this one, as it offers a nice glimpse of the future of film-making, where expensive actors and lavish sets will be stored on hard drives.  Ten years from now, as technology allows for faster rendering times on animated production, not every story will come off this cartoonish and lacking in dramatic depth (despite being voiced by heavy weights such as Malkovich and Hopkins).

Perhaps that is truly the story that Beowulf tells us – one of our own cinematic destiny.